WHO IS SHE? Chin Su Yuen, 29, is an advocate for start-ups. Straight out of NUS, the computer science grad joined the world of social gaming development (think: Farmville), was inspired by her boss’ entrepreneurial drive, and decided that she too wanted her own business. After four years developing websites and mobile apps through her start-up agency, Chin has channelled her resources toward real-time freelancing platform, MomoCentral.com, which aims to resolve a talent drought in the demanding world of tech.
8 DAYS: What inspired your tech career?
CHIN SU YUEN: When I was 17, I was really in love with design and packaging. Back then print was [still] all the rage; there was no such thing as UI [user interface] or UX [user experience] design. So I thought okay, I’ll intern at a design house and do all the design and packaging I love. It was really fun, but every time we came up with creative concepts, the tech department would say, oh, this is too complicated, or this is just not possible. I learnt coding so that I would know what’s possible and what’s not. So people can’t tell me BS anymore.
When did you decide to start your own business?
One of my projects in university was augmented reality (AR). I built a Farmville-like sim city for kids using AR technology. It let kids, aged four to six years old, build their city while learning English at the same time. Mid-way through my [first] job, I got an SiTF award for that project and $50,000 funding. So I quit my job and ran that as a start-up.
$50,000 funding sounds pretty awesome.
Things were not so rosy. I had to do enterprise sales to schools. I had to demo my product at a lot of kindergartens and do a lot of user testing. When the iPad 2 came out, we launched it on the App store. We made $8,000 in the first week. It sounds promising, right? After the first week, things started to go downhill because you have people from China releasing 60 new kids’ apps every day. You very quickly get bumped off the new apps list. I was a noob. I didn’t know you had to take your [earned] money and throw it back into marketing.
How did the idea for MomoCentral emerge?
Some clients are not sure what they want at the start. If you gave them a cost quotation based on what they [initially] wanted, there’ll be a lot of change requests later [which you have to charge extra for] and it makes everyone unhappy. That’s when we pivoted to our current company, MomoCentral. It’s a real-time freelancing platform for developers and designers. Let’s say you book a developer from 9am-3pm, we’ll get you one, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, to work with you remotely. At 9am, they’ll come online and say “What do you want me to work on today?” At 3pm they’ll stop and you’re charged for six hours of their time. It’s as though you get an on-demand, in-house employee. Because clients are paying by the hour, they tend to be more responsive.
With a strong demand for people in tech, would you advise a mid-career switch?
It boils down to interest. We’ve had people on our platform who were bankers with First Class honours from the London School of Economics. They taught themselves coding by going through online courses, and they became really solid coders by the time they applied to us. If you don’t like it, it’s going to be the most mundane and boring thing ever. You can spend eight hours trying to find a bug that you have to fix. You need to have some kind of grit to survive that.
Is it lucrative? Should we change jobs?
The salary is definitely high now, provided you can pass the tech interviews. There are Silicon Valley companies with a local office here offering fresh grads $6,000, or more, depending on how good you are. If you are a lousy coder, you will fail their code tests.
What’s the one thing you learnt on the job that they didn’t teach you in school?
The first year running the company we were in the red — and not because we were bad at what we were doing. Yes, I can build product X, but are people willing to pay for product X? Is product X valuable? If yes, for whom? So we were building all these products, like the AR game. But in the end the teachers asked, “Why would I use this? I can use flash cards.” They’re boring but they still achieve the same objective [at a lower cost]. I had to show [its value] not only from an educational perspective, but from a financial one. There’s no text book that teaches you that. You learn it the hard way, going to many failed pitches and business meetings. Over time we learnt how to build things that people would pay for. To keep us fed.